By Josh Borsellio
Being served with a lawsuit is always a stressful experience. If you are a business owner for long enough, you will more than likely be sued at some point. This article will serve as a primer for those who are served with a lawsuit in Texas. Service of a lawsuit in Texas is generally made in person by a process server or constable. If several unsuccessful attempts are made to serve you, the court may allow the process server or constable to affix the citation and petition on your front door.
Once you have been served, the time you have before the deadline to file an answer begins to run. Filing an answer before your deadline is critical because if you do not do so, the court can enter a default judgment in favor of the plaintiff for the full amount sought in the suit. The citation that the defendant is served with will specify when the answer is due. Do not try to calculate the deadline yourself — consult with an attorney, as special deadlines could apply if the plaintiff asks for expedited or temporary relief. You should write down the time and date you are served, as your attorney will need to know this to properly calculate your answer deadline.
Review the documents you were served with and make any notes that you think of related to the plaintiff’s allegations. Has the plaintiff sued the right person or entity? What evidence do you have related to the plaintiff’s allegations (e.g., photographs, documents, e-mails, etc.)? Do you have an insurance policy that might cover the occurrence? Has the plaintiff filed suit in the correct state or county? Do the parties have a written agreement and, if so, what does it say about where a suit must be filed and whether it is subject to alternative dispute resolution procedures such as mediation or arbitration? These are all questions you should discuss with your attorney, and the more prepared you are for such a meeting, the better.
You should also contact an attorney who you want to defend you as soon as possible after being served. Too often, defendants wait until the answer is past due to contact an attorney. There is nothing to be gained by waiting to contact counsel. Another thing you should consider is that it might take more time than you think to retain a lawyer. The attorney you have in mind might not handle your type of case, he or she might have a conflict or some other factor might prevent the attorney from handling your case.